Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"The Value of Charcoal" 24x20"

Last week, I made a presentation to the Art Association of Elk Grove Village.  They had asked me to demonstrate some methods in charcoal on paper.  I set up a little still life, shined a light on it, and got to work.  As I was drawing, I talked a bit about the benefits as well as the techniques involved with charcoal, and I surprised myself how many benefits there actually are.  Here are a few that popped up as I was drawing:

          It takes color out of the picture.  If you are switching from one genre to anther (let's say from landscapes to portraiture), charcoal allows you to focus on drawing and value (lightness to darkness) without being confused by color.  This can be especially helpful when you're feeling challenged by the subject matter.

          It's easily erased and cheap.  Mistakes can be made and corrected without much fuss or investment.

          It forces you to see in simplified values.  When you are working in black, white and gray, you must make value decisions without the help (or confusion) of color.  Strong values strengthen your art in any medium, and charcoal can help you develop this skill quickly.

          You can take time to get the drawing right.  I spent a lot of time during the demo showing everyone how to measure to get proportions correct the first time.  In the drawing above, I used the base of the pitcher as my guide to measure everything else in the still life so everything was proportionally correct.  Many people resist measuring (I know I used to!), but if just a little bit of time is spent on it, it can save hours of misery later in the drawing, when you ask yourself, why doesn't this look right?

          Edge work opportunities become pronounced.  When two shapes of similar value meet, there is an opportunity for a lost or softened edge.  In my drawing, you can see these opportunities where the bottom of the pear meets the shadow, and where the light side of the pear meets the lighter part of the table.  I could soften these edges like this:

Sometimes I think that the difference between a good painting and a great one is found in the edges.  Charcoal drawings can help us develop that skill too.

          Charcoal can be beautiful!  Here are two examples of exquisite charcoal drawings:

 Armin Mersmann

Richard Young

Makes me wonder why I don't spend more time with charcoal.  It's definitely a medium worth the time!

Friday, March 20, 2015

"The Rancher", 12x16" And A Lesson From Carolyn Anderson

"The Rancher", Ann Feldman

Last year, I took a workshop with Carolyn Anderson, a phenomenal impressionist painter.  I've admired her loose, interpretive style of painting for years, so I was thrilled to be able to see how she approaches a painting.  One of the things I came away with was that sometimes a small brush can be used to add some "air" and mystery to a painting.  Seems counterintuitive, since we are often told to reach for the largest brush possible when we try to loosen up our paintings.  

In "The Rancher", I used a #2 filbert brush (which is pretty darned tiny) for the entire painting, using the point to draw and fill in with scratchy strokes, then I used the side of the brush to flatten out the paint in areas such as the hat.  I call this style of painting "Drawing with Paint".  In Carolyn's workshop, once I started with this style, I couldn't stop!  She would come by my easel and encourage me to pick up one of my other brushes to finish the painting, but I wanted to see how far I could go with one brush.  A little is good, so a lot will be great, I thought…

Here is an example of Carolyn's work.  You can see why I have been so taken with her!

"Girl With Curls", Carolyn Anderson

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Vesna's Daughter", 12x16", And Some thoughts from Qiang Huang

"Vesna's Daughter"

I read in Qiang Huang's excellent blog that he believes that artists tend to group into two categories: still life/portrait painters and landscape painters.  The still life/portrait folks enjoy painting the forms of things, while landscape painters look for the patterns in their surroundings.  When I read this, it was as if a gong sounded in my head-- I'm a form painter, and always have been!

I started to think about other artists through history, and they did tend to settle in one or the other of these two categories.  Qiang went on to say that after an artist has mastered one type of painting, he or she often starts to look for challenge in the other genre.

I love a beautiful landscape as much as the next person, but have had a dickens of a time painting my own.  It's good to know that there is a challenge out there on the horizon, waiting for me to put my toe into new waters.  But maybe not today.  Tomorrow's not looking good either!

Still Life by Qiang Huang

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Resolve", 12x16" And Inspiration from Robert Henri

Last week I taught a workshop at the Northlight Studio in Arlington Heights on painting the portrait with palette knives.  "Resolve" is the painting that I started as a demonstration and finished in the studio.  Portraits have a way of getting very detailed, and the character of the model can start to drain away as we strive for the perfect likeness.  A palette knife in hand will not allow this to happen.  Color and shape have to be laid in boldly.  The final product can be more a piece of art than just a likeness of the model.

An artist must first of all respond to his subject, he must be filled with emotion toward that subject and then he must make his technique so sincere, so translucent that it may be forgotten, the value of the subject shining through it.” 
― Robert HenriThe Art Spirit

Robert Henri (1865-1929) was an American artist and teacher who was extremely prominent in the Ashcan School of American Realism.  His book, "The Art Spirit" is always close at hand in my studio.  I can open that book on any page and find new inspiration to create art, no matter how flat or lost I'm feeling that day.  Here is an example of Henri's work.  It is evident that he is striving to portray the character of his model much more than concentrating solely on a likeness. This painting captures a feeling I think we all can respond to.

"Dutch Girl Laughing" Robert Henri